Over the last few decades one of the hottest subjects of debate in the social sciences has been the emergence of ‘cyber’ and its effects on all manner of social relationships and human communities. The term itself is chronically contested and the understanding of the nature of cyberspace in the literature (i.e., its delimitation, composition, and relations with other sorts of space) has a certain buffet quality to it, meaning one thing to some scholars and something else to others. The most influential literature on the subject largely steers clear of the term in the search for the essence of the problem at hand. The sociologist Manuel Castells, for instance, has described the arrival of what he calls the “network society.” The basic idea, in a nutshell, is that the recent (or, perhaps better, ongoing) putative ‘revolution’ in information technology has, in turn, given rise to a paradigmatically new form of organization of human activities—political, economic, and cultural—that is structured around network flows of information, wealth, and, ultimately, power.
The book under discussion here is The Arc of War: Origins, Escalation, and Transformation by two political scientists of international relations, each with impressive track records of work drawing on both historical detail and political science theory. It is a very ambitious book that deserves close attention by an interdisciplinary audience such as the readers of H-Diplo. The authors’ ambition may seem vaulting, and the book is susceptible to tough criticism. Yet ambition can be laudable, and they have their chance to make a spirited rebuttable defense at the end.